Is it considered identify theft? Interview fraud? Maybe something like the prank that Jim and Pam pulled on Dwight when they replaced Jim with an actor? Whatever it is, employers should beware that applicants are no longer just puffing the proficiency of their skills, but have come up with surprisingly bold and creative ways to fraudulently secure a job through the virtual interview process.
One recent example of what the New York Times terms “extensive image creation” was reported by askamanager.org. A company’s new hire turned out not to be the same person that was interviewed for the position. After three rounds of interviews, one of the hiring managers noticed that something was off with their new hire after a little over a week on the job. The first signs that something was afoot included the new hire wearing glasses when he had worn none during his interview, and he had completely different hair. The new hire had previously made references to being single during his interview from an indoor desk area, but he now spoke with coworkers about having to work in the garage because his three children and wife were at home. He also “re-introduced” himself to an HR Business Partner who was on two of three rounds of interviews and had extensive discussions with the new hire. Even more, the new hire couldn’t answer questions which were pivotal to the position even though they were previously confidently and articulately discussed in the interview.
After confirming that HR had extended the offer to the intended candidate, the company’s security department put a trace on the new hire’s computer to review whether company information was being disseminated, or if he was completing his work with some outside help. The company’s HR and legal teams started preparing to have a conversation with the new hire regarding concerns that he had oversold some of his abilities, rather than outright accusing the new hire of being a liar and terminating him for fraud (although, unless there is an employment contract, employees in all states except Montana are presumed to be at-will, meaning that either they or their employer may terminate their employment at any time for any reason, with or without notice, so long as the termination is not prohibited by law or public policy, an individual contract requiring cause for the termination, or a collective bargaining agreement). However, when the new hire was reached to have this conversation, he promptly quit and hung up the phone before HR could get through their first question.
So how do you make sure that the person you hire is the same one that you interviewed virtually? Various commentators (for example, 1, 2, 3, and 4) have offered tips, including the following:
- Conduct video interviews rather than telephone interviews. Seeing the candidate will allow you to match up their appearance once they actually start work, and ensure that you are employing the same person that you interviewed. Be careful, though, in taking notes of a person’s appearance. Notes that refer to legally-protected personal characteristics – such as race, age, religious garb, or physical disabilities – could be used in a discrimination lawsuit.
- Reschedule the interview if the candidate is experiencing technical difficulties with the video. Shockingly, there are buffering apps that create visual disturbances, allowing candidates to hide their face, or create a lag during which time the candidate may be fed answers.
- Ask for a photo ID during the interview. But don’t specify exactly what the ID must be (e.g. a driver’s license). Not all candidates may be U.S. citizens, and they may not have driver’s licenses. Such a requirement could implicate discrimination issues on the basis of national origin or immigration status, for example.
- Watch the candidate’s eyes during the interview. The interviewee may have someone in the room helping them, a cheat sheet open for use in a technical screening, or may be chatting with a real-time proxy interviewee (someone who feeds answers to the individual being interviewed). While not everyone looks directly at the camera while on video calls, if someone keeps looking back and forth in an off-camera direction, that could suggest that they are getting off-camera help.
- Notice the candidate’s headset. While headsets/headphones often provide for better sound quality, candidates might be coached through their headset. If you have noticed other signs, ask them to take off their headset and use the built-in microphone and speakers.
- Ask the interviewee to screenshare. If you’ve noticed several of the red flags above, don’t hesitate to ask the candidate to share their screen. This will allow you to see the chat window with their proxy if they are using one, or the candidate will more likely close the program and continue on with the interview. If the quality of their answers suddenly declines, it is safe to assume they were using some outside help.
- Use specifically-targeted situational or behavioral questions. Meta (formerly Facebook), for example, utilizes in-house psychologists who devise questions that are hard for interviewees to fake by requiring them to narrate their experiences or explore hypothetical scenarios.
- Request and verify references. The “old-fashioned” way of asking for and checking with an interviewee’s references is one of the best ways to find out if a job history has been fabricated. Plus, there is always the possibility that the candidate used similar deceptive practices at their old job.